In a decision penned by Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta dated February 11 and released Monday, the SC reversed the Sandiganbayan’s 2017 ruling that dismissed the graft case against Echavez and her father, the late city mayor Reynaldo O. Parojinog, filed by the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) in 2016.
Acting on an anonymous complaint filed in 2010 and the subsequent report of the Commission on Audit (COA), the Ombudsman charged the Parojinogs with graft, saying they had financial or pecuniary interest in the renovation of the multi-purpose building awarded in favor of the Parojinog & Sons Construction Company (PSCC).
Nova Princess was the managing partner in the said firm.
Acting on a motion of the Parojinogs, the anti-graft court then dismissed the case for violation of the accused’s constitutional right to speedy disposition of cases noting that it took the OMB a total of five years and 11 months to file the criminal case in court from the time it received the complaint.
The Office of the Special Prosecutor elevated the issue before the SC.
The SC, citing the provision in the Constitution, said that “all persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.”
In reversing the Sandiganbayan, the court pointed out however that the right is violated “only when the proceeding is attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays."
The SC said that “for the purpose of determining whether inordinate delay exists, a case is deemed to have commenced from the filing of the formal complaint and the subsequent conduct of the preliminary investigation.”
"The period devoted for fact-finding investigations before the filing of the formal complaint is not included in the determination of whether there has been inordinate delay,” the SC said, explaining that the period from the receipt of the anonymous complaint by the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao, on August 23, 2010, until December 7, 2014 should not be considered in the determination of the presence of inordinate delay.
“This is so because during this period, respondents were not yet exposed to adversarial proceedings, but only for the purpose of determining whether a formal complaint against them should be filed based on the result of the fact-finding investigation," it added.
The SC noted that the reckoning point to determine if there had been inordinate delay should start to run from the filing of the formal complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao, on December 8, 2014, up to the filing of the Information on November 23, 2016.
“Finally, we note that the Sandiganbayan granted respondents' motion to quash the Information on the ground that the facts did not constitute an offense, and since it dismissed the case due to the violation of respondents' right to a speedy disposition of cases, it did not order the amendment of the information as provided under Section 4, Rule 117 of the Rules of Court,” the High Court said.
The SC added that “if the motion to quash is based on an alleged defect of the complaint or information which can be cured by amendment, the court shall order that an amendment be made. If it is based on the ground that the facts charged do not constitute an offense, the prosecution shall be given by the court an opportunity to correct the defect by amendment."
The SC said that since the elder Mayor Parojinog had already died on July 30, 2019 the criminal information should only be filed against respondent Echavez.”
In July 2017, Nova Princess and sibling brother Reynaldo Jr., and several other persons were arrested when law enforcement agents served them search warrants for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition. The ensuing firefight left Parojinog Sr., his wife, and 14 others dead.